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Tuesday, 25 July, 2000, 11:01 GMT 12:01 UK
Booklet makes mouse case
Mouse BBC
Genomics has increased mouse experiments
One of the main funding bodies for medical research in the UK has released a booklet explaining the necessity, as it sees it, for the continued use of animals in laboratory experiments.

The Medical Research Council (MRC) says its pamphlet, Mice and Medicine, shows how studies involving rodents are shaping scientists' understanding of human diseases and how this work can release the potential for new medicines.

While the MRC is committed to the ideals of refining, reducing and replacing animals in research, animal experiments remain an essential part of the future of medical research

Professor Sir George Radda, MRC
The publication has been put out ahead of Home Office statistics that are likely to show an increase in the numbers of animals now being used in UK labs - especially mice.

Welfare groups have expressed dismay that a government which came to power expressing a desire to reduce animal experimentation has actually overseen a steady increase in animal-related studies.

Of particular concern is the growing wastage of hundreds of thousands of mice that are simply discarded in genetic experiments that do not work. Researchers can study the problems of human disease by "knocking out" genes of parallel importance in mice. But it can take several generations of rodents to produce an accurate model of a human condition and the strains of mice that "fail" are destroyed.

The MRC says about a fifth of its projects involve living animals. Of those that do, 95% involve mice. The 36-page booklet charts some of the most recent MRC mouse research work, which is helping scientists tackle a range of serious and common health problems.

Human genome

The case studies include advances in Cystic Fibrosis research, deafness, improving treatments for depression, a DNA vaccine to fight tuberculosis (TB), vaccines for malaria, preventing and treating cancer and other diseases using monoclonal antibodies.

Professor Sir George Radda, Chief Executive of the MRC, said: "While the MRC is committed to the ideals of refining, reducing and replacing animals in research, animal experiments remain an essential part of the future of medical research.

"With the recent release of the first draft of the human genome, there are more opportunities than ever to tackle health problems from a new perspective. Mouse research will play an important part in defining how genes and proteins are involved in human disease and translating the information into new diagnostics and therapies for health."

Last month, a group of 110 high-ranking UK scientists appealed to the government to allow them more freedom to conduct animal experiments.

The experts, who included a number of Nobel Prizewinners, wrote to science minister Lord Sainsbury urging him to relax regulations they feared could drive vital research overseas.

Opinion poll

The scientists said they were arguing for less bureaucracy, not more cruelty. But the call was strongly condemned by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, which described it as "outrageous and arrogant".

Of the new MRC booklet, BUAV said: "This latest attempt to justify animal research clearly demonstrates that the MRC and the animal research industry fear they are losing the battle for public support.

"A recent Mori opinion poll showed that 64% of people asked opposed scientific experiments on animals.

"Animal genetic engineering is increasing rapidly in a largely uncontrolled manner yet there has been no proper debate on the implications for this sort of technology."

BUAV said many of the modified animals did not model human conditions very accurately, which put a question mark against their value in research. It said the MRC should invest in better technologies that did not inflict "pain and suffering on other species".

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